Despite his personal best endeavours, Tiger Woods’ US team trails after day one – photo David Tease
The crowds were lining up well ahead of the gates opening on day one of the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, long lines awaiting security screening some two hours ahead of the opening tee shots being hit at 9.32 Melbourne time.
The wait would be worthwhile – for the majority of the fans that is. The International Team, perhaps surprisingly, taking the lead in the opening round of fourball matches and establishing a very important early cushion of 4 points to 1 as the event heads into tomorrow’s foursome encounters.
With 25 points still up for grabs over the next three days, however, nothing is being taken for granted by either side although there is little doubt the International side are excited about leading this event as much as they are after day one.
Not that things started that way on a cool, breezy Melbourne morning. Tiger Woods, paired with Justin Thomas in the opening group out, went 1 up at the first with a birdie at the short par 4 and the US pairing never looked back. Their opponents, Marc Leishman and Joaquin Niemann, threatened to fight back on occasions but the Americans would eventually win 4&3 and the first point had gone to the holders.
Thomas was quick to admit that he played very little role in the victory, giving all the credit to Woods who was responsible for seven of the nine holes won by his side.
“Tiger was working so well between the two of us today,” said Thomas. “He played great. I mean, I just didn’t really take advantage of the opportunities, but that’s what you have a partner for. It was awesome. It’s nice knowing when I step up on a par 3 or a par 4 that I feel free just because I know he’s playing well, and he did.
“He played great today. It’s no coincidence why we won. He really carried me out there, and you know, it was a tough day out there, and to have as many birdie putts as he had was the reason we won the match.”
The Internationals, however, were not about to lie down. Behind Woods and Thomas, the balance of the Internationals were more than holding their own and in fact when Louis Oosthuizen and Abraham Ancer claimed the next available point, they had drawn level at 1 all.
Oosthuizen could not sing Ancer’s praises enough. “My man just made everything. He hit it good. He hit fairways, greens, and it’s all on him today. It was unreal.”
Ancer was playing his first Presidents Cup and he could not have started his international career in a better way but he paid credit to Oosthuizen and his calming influence. “It’s so much fun, truly a pleasure playing with Louis.
“He made it feel easy out here, which is not easy. It’s a very tough golf course. We had a lot of fun. We had a plan and I think we kept to our plan really well and I felt good out there, which gave me a lot of confidence and I made some putts.”
On the golf course the remaining matches were stacked in favour of the Internationals and although the result of two of the three matches was not determined until the 18th the overall score reflected a day where the Internationals surprised most with their dominant performance.
Late inclusion in the team on the withdrawal of Jason Day, Ben An, teamed with Adam Scott and they were never behind in their match against Bryson De Chambeau and Tony Finau, eventually winning 2&1 while Hideki Matsuyama and C.T. Pan and Adam Hadwin and Sungjae Im won their matches at the final hole.
As to what this means in the days ahead remains to be seen especially given that 25 points still remain available to either team. The Internationals’ record in foursome matches at Presidents Cup in recent times is not good an tomorrow might well play a key role in their chances of taking the Cup for just the second occasion.
An hour after the completion of play, both captains announced their line-ups for tomorrow. Not surprisingly, Woods will again team with Justin Thomas but he has, however, retained two of his losing pairings of today.
For Els, it appears he is continuing to stick with a specific game plan despite none of his winning pairings combining on day two. His team does appear to be playing like a well drilled unit thus far but he is only too aware of just how far there is still to go.
“You know, it’s just getting the guys to play together like we did in practice, and just getting prepared with the golf course,” said the South African.
“You know, the team spirit was really good this time. We had many meetings through the year and so forth and so forth, but I mean, hey, we’ve played one session. We’ve got four more to go. We’ve got foursomes tomorrow. We’ll be focusing on that tomorrow, and we’ll take it from there.
Ernie Els working with his assistant captains to determine the match-ups for tomorrow